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Four Observations from Borussia Dortmund’s Haphazard Victory Against SC Paderborn

It may have been a win, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

Borussia Dortmund v SC Paderborn 07 - DFB Cup: Round Of Sixteen Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund may have defeated SC Paderborn in the DFB Pokal today, but it sure doesn’t feel like a victory. After jumping to an early 2-0 lead courtesy of goals by Emre Can and Jadon Sancho, BVB were outplayed and allowed Paderborn to claw their way back into the game. In the 79th minute, a poor clearance from Felix Passlack floated straight to Julian Justvan, who dispatched the ball into the net.

With the lead down to one, Borussia Dortmund almost managed to see the game across the finish line. It even looked like they had put the game to bed with a stoppage-time goal from Erling Haaland. However, after a lengthy VAR review, the referee determined that, in the buildup to the play, Felix Passlack had committed a foul inside the BVB penalty area, and instead of a Dortmund goal, Paderborn were awarded a penalty, which they promptly scored to force extra time.

Even though BVB would eventually score in extra time to go through to the next round, it was extremely demoralizing. What should have been an easy win after a 2-0 lead turned into a 120-minute brawl. On a night when many first-team players should have been rested, Terzic instead demanded 120 grueling minutes from Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Emre Can, and Manuel Akanji. Even Raphael Guerreiro, who started on the bench, was unable to have a day of rest, as he had to come on to replace Nico Schulz after 90 minutes. It could have been a real confidence-builder, but instead BVB will go into the weekend off another shaky performance.

Here are a few observations about today’s match:

Full Credit to Paderborn

Whenever there’s a match like this, the temptation is always to lay into the bigger team and criticize their mentality and tactics. What often gets left in the weeds is the level of effort shown by the smaller club. Steffen Baumgart’s men may not have won, but they can leave the Westfalenstadion tonight with their chins held high. After they went down 2-0 in the opening minutes of the match, it would have been very easy for them to fold, either getting torn apart on the counter or sitting back defensively in a futile attempt to limit the damage. Instead, Paderborn stuck to their game plan and kept up their pressure, taking advantage of turnovers from BVB’s midfielders and defenders. They generated many chances, especially in the second half, and were eventually rewarded with a pair of goals to force extra time.

Paderborn’s entire back line but especially the center backs Sebastian Schonlau and Uwe Hünemeier deserve praise. After the 25th minute or so, Dortmund’s sole plan of attack was for either Jude Bellingham or Thomas Delaney to attempt to play either Erling Haaland or Jadon Sancho in behind Paderborn with quick verticals, but again and again Schonlau and Hünemeier cut out passes with last minute tackles.

Baumgart completely wore his voice out screaming all night, and he must have felt disappointed when the final whistle blew. But in a poignant display of leadership, he gathered his players in a circle following the match’s conclusion and gave a team talk, presumably praising his team for their 120-minute effort.

BVB Fell Asleep at the Wheel

Once Jadon Sancho’s goal struck the back of the net in the 16th minute, few observers would have entertained the idea that Paderborn would find a way to come back into the game, figuring that Borussia Dortmund would be able to pick off Paderborn on the counter attack with ease. Instead, BVB appeared to treat this as a foregone conclusion. Rather than working hard to keep the pressure on Paderborn and force them into mistakes, Dortmund seemed content to sit deep and simply punt the ball forward to Haaland or Sancho.

Unfortunately, Paderborn did a fantastic job handling these vertical plays and pushing the ball back in the other direction. They continuously launched hopeful crosses into the box, and only needed lucky breaks twice to be able to pull the score level.

BVB’s lackluster approach almost cost them their place in the quarter finals. We’ve known for years that Dortmund have a tendency to play to their opponents’ level, and they almost fell into a similar trap today. It seems to me that they assumed that Paderborn would fold after going 2-0 down, and when they didn’t BVB couldn’t muster the aggression necessary to fight back. It took Erling Haaland’s sheer tenacity to finally get in behind Paderborn’s back line and snatch a winner. If it wasn’t for BVB’s star striker, the result could have been ugly.

Marwin Hitz was (Mostly) Good

With goalkeeper Roman Bürki out for two weeks with a shoulder injury, Marwin Hitz will need to step up to take his place. Today was his first match between the sticks while covering for Bürki, and outside of the open-play goal he conceded, he was pretty good. He faced five shots on target excluding the penalty, and stopped all but one of them. They weren’t just saves on speculative long shots either, as they included a point-blank save off a curled effort by Christopher Antwi-Adjei and several other shots from inside the box.

It wasn’t all great for Hitz. His biggest mistake was on Paderborn’s first goal. Julian Justvan’s shot wriggled through a cluster of BVB defenders and flew straight towards Hitz in the center of the goal. It should have been simple for Hitz to bend down and scoop the ball into his chest. It seemed like a routine save, but instead he let the ball deflect past him into the net.

Even besides this mistake, Marwin’s performance wasn’t flawless. His distribution was poor, and his lack of a commanding presence on set pieces was noticeable. While Hitz may do an acceptable job filling in for Bürki, he is certainly not a long-term replacement. Borussia Dortmund will need to hit the transfer market to bring in a new #1 keeper.

BVB have a Massive Full Back Problem

Borussia Dortmund have five full backs on their depth chart. One, Thomas Meunier, was injured today, and couldn’t play. The remaining four all played today, and three of them were pretty bad. Mateu Morey has been a pretty big disappointment this season, and was unconvincing before he was injured and needed to be subbed off at half time. Nico Schulz was a total vacuum offensively, missed a wide-open net in the first half, and got dusted on Paderborn’s first goal by Antwi-Adjei.

Felix Passlack subbed in for Morey and also had a disappointing performance. On the same play as Schulz’s mistake, Passlack’s botched headed clearance went straight to Justvan, who took a quick chop and then lashed a shot into the corner. He also committed a foul inside the box that gifted Paderborn a penalty right at the end of stoppage time. He swung his foot at a loose ball in an attempt to clear it, but instead smacked the leg of Sebastian Schonlau. It was a clear penalty, and the referee was absolutely correct to call it after a video review.

Today’s game was just a microcosm of a major issue facing Borussia Dortmund: aside from Raphael Guerreiro, the club’s full backs are astonishingly mediocre. In modern football few positions are so important. We saw what having an elite full back like Achraf Hakimi could do for a club, and BVB’s poor play this season has demonstrated the disadvantage of having average full backs. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the solution is. Full backs are a hot commodity, and it will be tough for BVB to find an affordable player who can slide into their first team. They also can’t rely on Guerreiro to play every game. Sporting Director Michael Zorc and his scouting department may have to pull another rabbit out of a hat for BVB to improve at this position.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of today’s match? Leave your thoughts below.